The statement that “good artists copy; great artists steal” has been attributed to many. History is replete with examples of both sides, and not just in art but also in other fields. Is the assertion true? The answer, I think, depends upon both the reason for the copy and how well it was done. Let’s avoid the controversy and look at some old masters copying older masters.
Articles that Digress from Sight-Size
Digression: leaving the main subject in an extended written or verbal expression of thought.
Although this site is mostly all Sight-Size all the time, there are important digressions. Some of the articles in this category are rewrites from an old blog I used to manage. Others are brand new. In either case, these digressions should of interest to representational artists.
Whether we’re aware of it or not, each painting tells us where we’re supposed to stand. A painting whose artist was aware of the visual impression will position the viewer at the same place on the floor where the artist stood. It’s only at that distance where the painting comes into its proper focus.
Carolus-Duran is best known as the teacher of John Singer Sargent. Although he was well versed in other genres, in his day he was most famous for his portraits. As a contemporary remarked, “He makes living beings, and he makes them thus because he so sees them. One feels that when he has a subject under his eyes, he scrutinizes the very soul.”
Charles Gleyre (1806-1874) was a Swiss artist who took over Paul Delaroche’s Paris atelier in 1843. He is now largely unheard of outside of France and Switzerland, perhaps because his influence on later artists was due more to his instruction and less to his production as a painter.
Velazquez’s portrait of pope Innocent X changed my life, artistically speaking. In the Fall of 1988 I was traveling through Europe. I had spent a week in Madrid, where I was ill and was in bed much of the time. Nevertheless, I was able to visit the museums a bit and was not that enamored with the Velazquez paintings in the Prado. Chalk it up to my illness or to the academic-centric outlook I had at the time. Whatever the reason, I just could not get my head around his work. It was not that I disliked it, I was merely neutral.
I was taught that style was a choice an artist makes whereas manner is something which is not chosen but naturally occurring. Manner, therefore, was to be avoided. In fact, a part of one’s training in Sight-Size was subduing subconscious mannerisms in the student. You must learn to objectively represent nature before you can successfully engage in subjective representations.
One of the first things beginning painters want to know is how to physically put paint on the canvas. There are many options: you might stroke it, dab it, or scrub it, etc. In a sense, your brush stroke is like your handwriting which differs with each individual. Such was the case with Bunker’s fishhooks.